Bruce Anderson

Can Lord Heseltine save the England cricket team?

Apologies may be in order. A few weeks ago, I was advocating aid for Australia. As we had set the place up, we had a duty when this once-proud daughter house was sliding into decline. We used criminals to get the country going, which worked well. Hard, amoral characters, they built a nation in their own image. That was Australia for two centuries: hard, amoral – and good at cricket.

Then everything seemed to be going wrong. Perhaps it was the southern sun’s fault: melting down toughness and leaving a vacuum for decadence. It was time for the mother country to come to the rescue with fresh supplies of convicts (we have plenty). With their restorative blood-lines, the hardness might return and the Aussies should be capable of playing proper cricket again, in fifty years or so.
Well, my anxieties may have been premature. It has been an astonishing series, worth analysis as well as sackcloth and ashes. The first point is that the Australians’ achievement is all the greater, because they are not a great side. When we won the Ashes in 2005, the Aussies were fielding five players from the post-1918 Australia X1. (Try Hayden, Morris, Bradman, Ponting, Greg Chappell, Miller, Gilchrist, Lindwall, Warne, Lillee and McGrath, with Tiger O’Reilly as twelfth man/alternative to Lindwall.)

Despite five-nil, no-one from the current team forces his way into that line-up. Indeed, there are quite a few journeymen. Rogers, Watson, Bailey, Harris, Siddle, Lyon: none of them is remotely a world-class performer. Yet they gave a world-class performance: one for the annals and the record-books: one to keep the chain-gang cheering. They all played above themselves, as did Mitchell Johnson, who is now world class. But has there ever been a previous instance of a pace-bowler suddenly transforming his reputation when he was already over thirty?

The English side lacked pretenders to genius, unless you consider Pietersen, who is a genius, or a pretender.

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